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Monday, 16 September 2019
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Raw materials & technologies, Technologies

Fighting climate change - with cement

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Carbon capture-membrane-based technology developed by researchers is one of four technologies that may be used in a full-scale CO2 capture project - in a cement factory.

The cement industry has a huge carbon footprint. Source: Mopic/Fotolia

The cement industry has a huge carbon footprint. Source: Mopic/Fotolia

Gassnova, Norway’s state-funded effort to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for commercial use, has identified  Norcem’s cement plant in Brevik and Yara’s ammonia plant in Porsgrunn as the most promising candidates for a full-scale CCS demonstration project in Norway.

Four technologies

The four technologies being tested as part of the project are:

  • Amines (Aker Solutions)
  • Membranes (NTNU, SINTEF, DNV GL, Air Products)
  • Regenerating calcium cycle (Alstom)
  • Solid sorbents (Research Triangle Institute, USA)
First in the world?

Norcem’s cement factory in Brevik is the fourth largest point source of emissions in Norway, releasing nearly 800,000 tons of CO2 annually. Yara in Porsgrunn is in fifth place, with roughly 560,000 tons. If the government follows Gassnova’s recommendations, the first full-scale plant for post-combustion CO2 capture in Norway would end up at Norcem in Brevik. In fact, it may well become the world’s first cement plant with CCS.  The cement industry is one of the largest sources worldwide of carbon emissions, accounting for around five per cent of global emissions. Two thirds of these CO2 emissions are released during the chemical process of burning limestone for cement production and can only be cut by extracting the CO2 from the emissions in one form or another. The international cement industry is following the test runs in Brevik with great interest.

Amine technology is farthest along

Although Aker Solutions’ amine technology is clearly the most mature and proven technology of the four being tested, membrane technology has clear advantages. The flue gas can be cleaned without the use of amines or other chemicals. It also takes less space than the absorber unit that is used in amine technology. The membrane-based technology has been developed and patented by May-Britt Hägg and her colleagues at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). It consists of a super thin-film polyvinylamine membrane that is placed on a porous support structure, resulting in a composite membrane. The method of separation is called facilitated transport. Using the amine groups in the polymer structure of the membrane, CO2 is converted to bicarbonate by the water vapour that is also contained in the exhaust gas. The bicarbonate is quickly transported through the membrane, while the other substances in the flue gas are retained. "So we’re using an ‘agent’, a fixed carrier in the membrane, that helps to convert the gas we want to remove. This is the same process that occurs in our lungs when we breathe, where an enzyme converts CO2 into bicarbonate,” says Hägg.

Partnering with membrane manufacturer

The technology is now in an application round to participate in the Phase II test program in Brevik. The membrane consortium will consist of NTNU, the research organisation SINTEF, DNV GL and the international membrane company Air Products.  "This partnership means that we’re bringing a professional membrane manufacturer on board, and adding another element of Norwegian industry to our team. Their hollow fiber membrane will be coated with our membrane, so that it will separate out CO2 instead of nitrogen,” said Hägg. The hollow fiber membranes provide a large surface-to-volume ratio, and require less space than amine absorbers.

New membrane test rig in Trondheim

NTNU and SINTEF are also in the process of building a membrane rig, which is scheduled to be installed in the SINTEF test facility at Tiller in Trondheim this autumn. "Here the advantage is that we can run different test series in controlled conditions, based on various combinations of gases, and thereby simulate different types of emission sources. We have the opportunity to demonstrate the technology on alternative emissions sources, and to continually optimise the membrane on two fine rigs. We’ll keep on testing until we have documented results. And at some point we hope an industrial actor will be interested in buying or licensing the technology,” says Hägg.

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